A WINK, A NOD, A SMILE...
“Blanke!!!”The voice was deep and shrill at the same time. I jerked my head up from my note taking. “What do you think you’re doing???!!” I was terror stricken. The yelling was coming from my biology 101 professor.... in front of a class of about fifty. “You’re not listening,Blanke, are you???!” she went on. Decades later, I can remember the classroom, exactly where my desk was, even the color of the spiral bound notebook where I was taking voluminous notes: green. I can even remember what the prof was wearing: combat boots. But interestingly enough, I’ve forgotten her name. Maybe on purpose. I must’ve turned white; then red. The entire class fell silent and looked at me. The thing is, I’d always been a pretty serious student, all through high school, even in grade school. Nobody had ever yelled at me before. (Except Mrs. Furnace, my art teacher in the fifth grade, but that’s another story.) This was no way to kick off my freshman year in college. “I...I’m sorry, Miss (whatever-her-name-was,” I stammered, "I was taking notes, I..."“Well, pay attention, Blanke!!” she shouted. “And look at me!!” Instead, I looked around the room at the other startled students and saw a girl looking right back at me. When our eyes met, she winked at me, gave a brief nod of encouragement... and smiled warmly. It was as if she’d said, “Don’t worry, it’s okay. It’s not about you. That’s just how she is.” I got all that from a wink, a nod and a smile. And I was okay.
Here’s what my new friend didn’t do: roll her eyes. She didn’t fall into the trap of how bad it was for me; she threw me a line to pull me out of it, to invite me to let it go. Obviously, I’ve never forgotten it. And, I’ve tried to pay it forward...in little ways. Last week, the cab I was riding in, pulled over sharply to the right on Madison Avenue to drop me off. One of our ubiquitous NY bike riders (whom the cabbie didn’t see) was coming up on the right as well - and the cab and the biker almost collided. The biker pulled up to the driver’s side of the cab, hammered on the window and screamed profanities. He went on and on. Passers by and doormen rolled their eyes and shrugged. Their message was: "Hey, it’s New York, there are plenty of jerks...” As I was rummaging in my bag to pay the fare, I glanced in the driver’s rear view mirror. We locked eyes. He looked miserable. So... I winked at him, nodded my head encouragingly and gave him a big grin. Then he winked, nodded and smiled back. He was okay. More than okay, actually. He was good to go. And I felt pretty good, too.
Funny about the little things, isn’t it? They can really build on each other - in a good way - and can help perk you right up on what otherwise might be a pretty bleak day - with the traffic, the yelling and man’s inhumanity to man... And of course, as with anything, you can get on a roll. So...at JFK a couple of days ago, I was in Hudson News, buying a paper and a bottle of water and I saw this tiny person, probably about 4 or 5 months old, stretched out in his stroller, just about to “throw one” as we used to say when our daughters, Kate and Abigail, were little. His face was all squinched up: eyes, angry little slits; his mouth, frowning hard; his arms beginning to flail about - and the sounds he was making were anything but coos. His mother rolled her eyes and turned to pay for her purchases. But he and I looked at each other. I smiled. Then I nodded, made some soothing, chirping sounds, told him what a good boy he was (luckily nobody was listening) and winked. First he stopped flailing his arms, then he stopped making the “not good” sounds, and then he actually....smiled. His mom said, “Hey, way to go!” I smiled all the way to my gate. I’m smiling now, actually.
So next time you see someone - little or big - about to throw one - or being given a tough time...lose the eye roll, okay? And give ‘em the old "wink, nod and smile" routine. You just might make their day. And yours.
Oh, and my biology teacher? It turned out fine. I acted as if absolutely nothing had happened, was upbeat whenever I saw her and never took my eyes off her in class. She never yelled at me again. And...I got an A- in the course. (Maybe the minus was because she caught me looking disparagingly at her combat boots...)
Gail Blanke’s Lifedesigns©2013 All Rights Reserved
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